What is Grief?
The feelings that are experienced after the loss of a child can be powerful, unrelenting and all consuming. These may include anger, sadness, helplessness, guilt and loneliness. You may find yourself wanting to fight the grief rather than navigate your way through this foreign reality. When we feel powerless we often try to gain back some of this power by looking for someone or something to blame or to focus on.
However, often there is no one or nothing at fault and we may end up blaming ourselves. It can be even harder to accept that the loss is due to an unpredictable or random event that cannot be controlled nor prevented.
When a child dies, the wound is real. You loved your child; therefore you are gravely injured. Such a severe hurt needs to be healed.
Grieving is the Healing Process
Grieving will not bring your child back but it can make your life meaningful again. Grieving heals by bringing feelings to the surface where they can be expressed, talked about, understood and resolved. If feelings are left buried, they may cause prolonged turmoil, bitterness, family problems, and even ill-health. Studies have indicated that unresolved grief is a serious problem. So grieving is a work that must be done.
“I think it all hit me six months after she died. I was trying to fix everybody and keep everyone happy on all different fronts and after six months I just ran out of steam. I just couldn’t think and there was no spark in what I did at all. It was gone, so it took me awhile. You are trying to fix everyone’s problems but you forget you need to think about yourself too.”1
“A lot of guys in my experience internalize. I don’t talk as much as my wife did and I didn’t want to go to counselling. But I went. I didn’t enjoy the first session. I wasn’t comfortable. But looking back, it actually gave me the chance to talk more than I would have at home because I was internalising at home. I was again being the guy trying to fix it but began to understand that most guys are different to women. My wife reached out to her friends, I didn’t. I just piked out till I reached my tipping point and then I actually called someone professional.”1
Emotional Responses to Loss
All kinds of feelings can hit you in cyclical waves, devastating you, confusing you. Identifying your emotions may be helpful as part of the sorting out process. The following are typical:
- Sadness: “I felt totally miserable. I didn’t believe I would ever feel joy again.”1
- Emptiness: “I felt this great hole inside me, like something had died.”1
- Anger “Why couldn’t they save her; they should have known what to do.”1
“My wife was the first one to notice. She said: ‘It is a pattern with you, you get angry at little things and get angry at even bigger things and then you blow up and then a day later you will be in tears.’ She had written it all down. It wasn’t until one time when I was walking home from the station and a car went past me too fast that I caught myself in that moment questioning why was I so angry at the car. It was at that moment that I realised ‘she’s right, this is what’s happening’. The pain was building, the pressure was building, the cracks were showing and eventually it would collapse. Fortunately my wife could see through my juvenile outbursts and was patient enough just to ride the wave and get to that point where I realised myself what’s going on.”1
“I was really aware of projecting my anger on to others.”1
- Guilt: “Why didn’t I check on him before I went to bed?”1
- Frustration : “I can’t do anything to bring him back.”1
- Self-pity: “Sometimes I think ‘why me?”1
- Destructive Behaviour: “I wanted to drown out my pain with alcohol”1
“I probably have to say that one of the pitfalls for me was I used alcohol or something else to deal with it. I would just get to the point of burnt out or have a meltdown and I got into really bad habits. I would drink, eat and go out and not sleep. I don’t do that anymore, but the penny really had to drop for me to recognise my destructive behaviour especially as a father taking the lead. I realised that while I wasn’t really helping myself and being selfish, my relationships were getting worse with people. I admitted that and actually called someone professional and got professional help.”1
- Depression: “I used to think there was no point in going on.”1
Physical Response to Loss
Your body grieves too. The stress of grief can make enormous claims on your physical health. Physical problems, such as weakness, fatigue, infections, colds, stomach problems, sleep problems and headaches are common.
Be sure your doctor knows you are grieving and understands that grief is normal. Remember that grief is a part of life, not a pathological or emotional illness.
Last reviewed: 29/11/23
1. Quote from participants of a series of workshops and interviews with bereaved fathers held in 2015 at Red Nose Grief and Loss, Malvern, Victoria, and Red Nose Grief and Loss offices, Australia.